Beaumarchais and the American Revolution

French government material support to the American Revolution,
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The War Profiteer
With the recognition of France of the United States on February 6, 1778 and the open outbreak of war with England, the contribution of Hortalez & Cie. became a drop in the stream of troops and materiel which poured across the Atlantic. But Beaumarchais was not merely an adventurer looking for a quick profit. He was an idealist and he continued to send his cargos even though they were now relatively insignificant and even though there was no indication that he would ever be reimbursed. He now undertook new measures to try to put his cover company on a paying basis.
With the end of France's neutrality her ships became legal targets for British warships and commerce raiders and soon the prices of sugar and other products of the French West Indies were sky-rocketing. Beaumarchais continued to send his supply ships to the United States but, instead of trying to get cargos from Congress, he ordered them to return via the West Indies and load sugar. This trade proved extremely profitable for the first time since its inception, Hortalez d1 Cie. got itself out of the red. Georges Lemaitre in his biography, Beaumarchais, gives the following summary:
"From its foundation in 1776 until its dissolution in 1783, the 11ortalez firm engaged in business transactions involving over forty-two million livres, a truly enormous sum in those days. A close study of the balance sheets shows a total of 21,095,515 livres received while in the same period the general outlay was 21,044,191 livres. Thus the profit amounted to 51,324 livres-or only slightly more than two-tenths of one percent. In other words, Beaumarchais just managed to keep his enterprise on an even keel. His gains and losses, however, were very unevenly distributed. While the firm's private trade account showed an extremely favorable balance, the account with the United States was deeply in the red. Would the United States ever pay their debt? If they did, Beaumarchais would be a very rich man. If they did not, he would just about break even."
So in the end, Beaumarchais did become something of a war-profiteer, although hardly in the sense nor to the extent that Arthur Lee had claimed.
In 1783, as part of the negotiations for a loan by the French government to the United States, a determination was made by the American Consul General in Paris, Barclay, that the sum recommended by Deane in 1780 was substantially correct. However, a suspicion arose in Congress that Beaumarchais had been dishonest in that he had apparently received one million livres from the French government as initial capital without telling anybody. The idea that this might have


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Posted: May 08, 2007 08:27 AM
Last Updated: Aug 05, 2011 02:21 PM